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First Indian layman to become saint on May 15

Pope Francis will canonize Devasahayam Pillai and six others during a canonization Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome on May 15, 2022,
Blessed Devashayam Pillai

Pope Francis will canonize Devasahayam Pillai and six others during a canonization Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome on May 15, 2022, the Vatican has announced.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints announced the canonization on November 9.

The Church considers Blessed Devashayam Pillai  as person of unflinching faith, who sacrificed his life for his faith in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore in the 18th century.

On May 3 this year,  Pope Francis had authorized the canonizations without setting a date for the ceremony because of the health emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Born on April 23, 1712, as Neelakanda Pillai, in the village of Nattalam, into a feudal Nair family, he grew up to become an official in the service of King Mathanda Varma, the most powerful ruler of Travancore, which encompassed southern Kerala and parts of Tamil Nadu.

After the Kulachal war, he came under the spell of Dutch captain Eustacheus Benedictus De Lenoy, who, being caught a war prisoner, later joined Marthanda Varma's forces.

De Lenoy was believed to be instrumental in Pillai's conversion to Christianity. He was baptized as a  Catholic by a Jesuit priest in 1745.

He assumed the name 'Lazarus' or 'Devasahayam' in the local language, meaning 'God is my help.' 

According to church chroniclers, Pillai's conversion was taken as an affront by the feudal lords of the day and they repeatedly persuaded him to give up his new faith.

False charges of treason and espionage were brought against him.  He was divested of his post in the royal administration.  He was imprisoned and subjected to harsh persecution.

As Pillai stood firm, he was arrested and tortured for three years and finally taken to a remote place and shot dead on January 14, 1752.

Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomeo (1748-1806), a traveler, writes in his book "Voyage to the East Indies" (original Italian, 1796).

"The king of Travancore threatens with imprisonment and death every nobleman who shall quit his court to become a Christian, and who shall afterward fall into his hands; and indeed Nilampulla, (abbreviation for Neelakanda Pillai] an officer of a noble family, was shot at Arampalli because he refused to renounce the religion of Jesus Christ. In 1787 I saw four Nayiris or noble Shudris, thrown into prison at Tiruvandaburam because they would not apostasise from the Catholic Church," the book states

The process of beatification of Pillai gained momentum in 1993, with his "cause" being canonically instituted in the diocese of Kottar. The Diocesan Enquiry was sent to the Congregation for the Cause of Saints and the validity of the Diocesan process was confirmed in March 2010.

Devasahayam was declared Blessed on December 2, 2012, in Kottar, 300 years after his birth.

Sites linked with his life and martyrdom are in Kottar Diocese, Kanyakumari District of Tamil Nadu.  His tomb at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Nagercoil attracts large numbers of faithful.


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